The certification is just the second awarded to a county-wide law enforcement organization in New Jersey for its readiness to respond to child abduction crimes.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 10, 2023
The Camden County Child Abduction Response Team (CART), a multi-agency law enforcement task force dedicated to missing and abducted children, has earned national accreditation for its work.
Although every county in New Jersey has been required to establish a CART to rapidly respond to incidents involving missing children since 2009, the Camden County CART is just the second in the state, behind Gloucester County, to receive national certification for its readiness.
CART accreditation is awarded through the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College (NCJTC) in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, which established CART certification standards in 2012.
The achievement is the result of a year-long process that began in March 2022, with a review of the Camden County CART team and its practices and policies, and concluded with a two-day, multi-agency, mock abduction live exercise in Blackwood in October 2022.
Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay said the award should reassure Camden County residents that their law enforcement professionals are among the best in the state at building systems and capacities to streamline the work required to recover missing children.
“The work is massively important, and crucial to literally saving lives,” MacAulay said. “We operate to the highest standard of excellence that the Department of Justice expects, and our results show it.
“All the agencies share the same vision and the same work ethic,” the prosecutor said. “They meet constantly, there’s constant training, and to receive this certification, it’s years in the works, and months of extensive training.”
The advance work of organizing a response to a missing child incident saves valuable time when law enforcement are called in to handle such a case, said CART Coordinator Fawn Landay, a lieutenant in the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO).
“When that blast goes out, you have to get there as quick as you can,” Landay said.
“We have some people who are five minutes away, and some two hours, but they’re going to come.”
As frightening as it is to contemplate a missing or abducted child, Landay said that the CART is fully activated only once per 12 to 18 months, and partially activated three or four times per year.
A Tier One, multi-agency activation leverages 100 to 120 people; a full activation is county-wide, and can involve more than 240 law enforcement professionals, excluding state police and others.
When CART is activated, a coordinated response rolls out among K9 units, intelligence analysts, Megan’s Law detectives, child abuse experts, search and rescue teams, and experts in narcotics and violent crimes, among others. Recently, the team has also incorporated special training for autistic and special-needs populations, incident command, and resiliency, Landay said.
“Our team comprises amazing human beings who, in addition to their everyday roles and responsibilities, are committed and dedicated to society’s most vulnerable, our children,” she said. “We respond as one, and we organize and manage that chaos together.”
Despite the depth of resources available through CART, officials stressed that children are rarely abducted by strangers. Far more common are runaways, luring incidents, and abductions by people close to their lives.
“You’re getting kids that are in some kind of crisis, and they’re running away,” Landay said. “Or it could be a child with high-risk behaviors, meeting older people on the internet, or running away from home. We’re [also] having human trafficking issues.”
NCJTC Program Coordinator and National CART Coordinator Derek VanLuchene said the professionalism of Camden County law enforcement personnel was on display throughout the certification process.
“We saw some really, really good things from this team, and it was an easy certification” VanLuchene said.
“But it’s more than about checking boxes; it’s about finding a child,” he said.
“[It’s meaningful] to know that children in this county are safer as a result of your work that you’re doing here, and that you will continue to do.”
VanLuchene is intimately connected with the importance of the work he oversees: as a teenager, his eight-year-old brother, Ryan, was abducted from their rural Montana community, and murdered. The incident led to a career in law enforcement, and VanLuchene’s work with cases involving missing and exploited children.
“Our life as a family was changed; the community was changed,” he said.
“When you have a child that goes missing, that’s a community effort,” VanLuchene said. “That is what child abduction teams are about: having those front-loaded resources; having what you need to respond when a child goes missing.
“It reassures me knowing that this county is safer because of this process.”
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